Gambling

Riverboat of dreams

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James Bond step aside: Fellow gamblers can play high-stakes casino poker for only £5, discovers Colan Mehaffety.

We’re not so different, Daniel Craig and I. Perhaps I don’t have his chiselled features and, frankly, I look terrible in tight-fitting trunks. But, just like the new Bond in the movie Casino Royale, I’ve been issued with instructions to infiltrate a poker game.

My contact and mentor for the mission is Minnesotan multi-millionaire professional player, Greg Raymer, who scooped a cool $5m winning the 2004 World Series of Poker, and is visiting these shores to play in a European Poker Tour event. Raymer tells me to expect a different game from the fast-paced poker portrayed in films. ‘Poker is about patience,’ he counsels. ‘You may have to wait 20 hands for your opportunity.’ He pointed me in the direction of gaming websites with tuition, forums and free-to-play games to learn the basics without blowing a fortune.

The most commonly played type of poker is Texas Hold’em, a variant in which each player is initially dealt two cards, known as ‘hole cards’. Five community cards are then dealt face up, of which the players use three, in conjunction with their hole cards, to make the best possible hand. As each card is dealt, players must decide whether to fold or continue betting in the hope of landing the communal pot.

Raymer advises me that it’s vital to hold your nerve. ‘Just take that few extra seconds to assess your position,’ he recommends. ‘Don’t get caught up with the other players and act too quickly, because that’s when you make mistakes.’

Raymer’s tuition, allied to a couple of evenings spent battling the likes of ‘devilhand’ and other beastly players online, gave me sufficient confidence to enter a tournament at the Gala Riverboat Casino in Glasgow. While I doubt 007 would blow his nose with the £5 it costs to enter, the prize fund of up to £1500 regularly attracts a full house. Poker tournaments have a knockout format, each player starting with $1000 worth of chips and the aim of building their stack and making it to the final table. As I paced the foyer beforehand, I was gripped with the fear that I would be exposed as a rank amateur among these seasoned players.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only rookie at the table. It quickly became apparent that the older hands are more aggressive in their play, attempting to steal pots with high bets. My first action came with a pair of aces and, as I upped the bets, the players around me folded, leaving me with a single opponent. With our cards exposed, I initially - embarrassingly - didn’t realise I’d won, and only just suppressed a whoop of delight when the penny dropped. I’d won $1,200, albeit in pieces of plastic.

As the evening progressed and tension mounted, my luck started to wane. Overly cautious play with good hands, and foolhardy bluffs, soon eroded my stack. Down to $400, I moved all in with ace high and, the turn of a card later, my tournament was over. Reduced to the status of double-oh-oh, I made a vow: just like Bond, I would be back.

Poker tournaments run nightly at Gala casinos - visit www.galacasino.com for details. The Gala Riverboat Casino also arranges poker schools for groups - call 0141 226 6000 to book.

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